I’ve been having a lot of heart to hearts lately with my friends who are authors and artists and we’re all saying the same thing: It is getting harder and harder for everyone who isn’t in the top 5% of their industry to get the word out about work they are doing.
Because of the way the industries are now, many artists are not getting the marketing and push that they deserve or need. Much of that promotion and publicity now falls on the artist’s shoulder. Your artist friend may have a good career, but unless they are crazy lucky, or have the “it” thing of the moment, your artist friend is probably really struggling.
“What. But they have so many books out! They are on tour all the time! They are always doing some wacky play!”
Sadly, about 90% of artists are struggling and barely making a living wage. Most have full-time day jobs on top of their full-time art careers. Remember, every new project that they do is like starting from scratch.
For example, many of the people who I know who are not artists see all the stuff that I am doing and think that it’s going so great for me that I don’t need their help to get the word out about my books. But I do. All of your artist friends (even the most famous ones) need your support all the time.
To be a great Art Ally for any of your author/artist friends I’ve drummed up a list of things that you can do. I’ve focused on books, since I’m an author, but I’ve added helpful tips within to give you ideas on how to help your music, performer, filmmaker, comic book, visual artist and indie game maker friends.
1) Pre-order their stuff. Seriously. If your friend has a book (or CD or DVD or indie game or comic book) coming out pre-order it. Pre-orders give the publishing company an indication of interest and can help with print runs. Good pre-orders sometimes help a book because the publishing company may give a book a little push with extra marketing money and publicity based on those numbers.
2) Show up. If your friend has a reading or something, go to it. “But I went to it once for another book!” That’s great! You are a supporter! But, every book is a whole new thing! (Go to their rock show! Play! Art gallery opening! If your friend is in a film/made a film go opening weekend, that’s when the box office counts. Or order it on VOD the week it drops. Or buy the game the week it comes out. You get the idea.)
3) When you are there, buy the book. “But I already pre-ordered it!” Yeah, I know. But buying it at the store or the reading helps the bookstore and the numbers and will help your friend do another reading there the next time. This is especially important if your friend is doing a reading not in their hometown. (If your friend is a musician, buy merch because that might be how they are paying for gas. If your friend is an artist, buy a piece of art because that might equal a bag of groceries.)
3a) “But argh! This is not my kind of book. I don’t read that genre. It’s not for me. I’m not a kid/teen.” Sure, that’s fair. The book might not be for you. But I bet you one million dollars that you know somebody that the book (or other thing) would be perfect for. Maybe a strange aunt? Maybe your weird nephew? Maybe your co-worker? And remember the holidays are always just around the corner! Why not get it signed? Think of it as a back up present. You can give it at a white elephant exchange. If all else fails, get a copy and donate it to your local library or if it’s a kids book, to the school library nearest you.
4) Signal boost it. While it may look to you like everybody knows about your friend’s book, they probably don’t. Remember that we are all kind of in a bubble when it comes to social media. Authors (and artists of all kinds) are always looking for new readers/audience and you totally have a bunch of friends that your author/artist friend doesn’t know. And those friends might have never heard of your friend’s book, movie, game, music and it might be right up their alley. And those friends have friends that you don’t know. And so on. And so on. So every once in a while, if you like and in a way that you are comfortable with, an easy Art Ally action is to Tweet, Instagram, Pintrest or Facebook (or repost) something about that person’s art thing on the social medias! This signal boosting helps to get new eyeballs on the book (or art thing) that your friend is doing.
5) Review it / Rate it. Perhaps you are on Goodreads? Or perhaps you frequent Amazon or B&N or Powells? If you really are a fan of the book (or art thing), a simple way to help boost your friend’s work is by giving it a star rating or a review. (For musicians you can do this at those places as well. Also you can add their album to your streaming site and rate it! For films rate it on Netflix if it’s there! For games there are places to do this too!)
5a) For books, on Goodreads it’s also helpful if you add it to your to read shelf. It’s both helpful before the book comes out and when the book comes out. So if you haven’t done it already, go to it! Add all your friends books to your to read shelf. It’s not too late!
6) Make sure that it is in your local library branch! Libraries are the biggest purchasers of books! An author wants their book to be read! Libraries help with that! Maybe you are librarian? Or someone super close to you is a librarian? This is where you can really help to get it on the library radar by making sure that it is on the order list for your branch or for your system. Sidenote: Many libraries are too poor to purchase books this is a great place for you to donate that extra book!
7) Many books have reader guides or teacher guides. Are you a teacher? Or is someone super close to you a teacher? If you love the book, consider using it in your class! Or if not that, you can donate the book to your (or your teacher pal’s) school library or classroom library for students to enjoy.
8) Book Club it. If you have a book club, suggest your group read your friend’s book. Or maybe just have a one-off book club and get a group of your friends together to read your friend’s book. If your friend writes for kids, do a mother/ daughter or father /son book club with a group of people. I’m 100% certain that your author friend would be delighted to come over (or if they live far, Skype) to discuss their book with your book club. (for musicians you could host a living room show at your house)
9) Ask your art pal to come in and speak! Maybe your school or library has a budget to bring in a variety of guest speakers for classrooms or assemblies? Your friend would be perfect for this. If your institution has no budget, you can still ask your friend to come and speak! Lots of authors have sliding scales and can organize a way to sell their own books and that can offset a pro bono visit. Also, it will help them to get new readers. Being an art ally is all about getting new audiences for your arty friends. (Your other artist pals would make great classroom / assembly visitors as well.)
10) Vote and Nominate. It’s possible that there are lists that you can vote on or nominate your friends for that they may be eligible for and deserving. This could be anything from your local publicly voted on thing to a list that is for professionals which you might be. It’s easy for everyone to remember to nominate the big best sellers of the year or the debut books that are getting the big pushes. But there are many midlist books that are wonderful and get lost in that shuffle. Make sure to champion the midlist! They really need help to be seen! (This is the same for all of your artist friends. There is always a thing that is going on where they can use your vote or nomination. You’ve gotten those emails / updates.)
11) Hand sell. Maybe you are a bookseller? Make sure that the book is on the shelf. And then, when and if you love it, hand sell it! You can also help by making sure that the book is still on the shelf once it’s sold. Many stores don’t automatically re-order a book if it doesn’t sell more than a certain amount. If you are not a bookseller, you can still hand sell by just talking up the book to people. (Talk up their music, game, comic, play, and movie.)
11a) If you work in retail anywhere and your pal is a musician and you like their music: Try putting their album on at work! Who knows? Maybe someone will ask you who that swell band is? Your pal may gain a new listener!
12) Support their Indiegogo or Kickstarter. For your other artist friends who are making movies, plays, albums, comics, indie video games support their crowdfunding effort. Really. You can totally afford the $5-10 level (even if you think the project is lame.) And it will really help them and boost morale.
13) Be a good literary citizen. If you are an author, remember to be a good literary citizen. Promote yourself, but also do stuff for the larger literary community. Participate and include others. There are many things you can do. You can organize events. You can pitch panels. You can show up to things. You can volunteer to be a judge for things or to moderate panels (be a good moderator if you do.) You can write essays about other works. Remember to extend past your own inner circle of friends to include people who you might not know. Being an artist is very hard. There are many ups and downs in a career. At some point everyone goes through a hard time and needs help. Avoid the cool kids table mentality. Be kind. When you are on the top, don’t forget to keep helping your community. Diversify your literary and artistic world. (Other artists, you know what this is in your own field. Art citizens for the win!)
14) Invite your friend over to dinner. Or buy them dinner. Or have a potluck. Everyone could use a good night out with friends and conversation. It’s a spirit booster. No lie.
You have the power to be a great ART ALLY! Champion what you love. From all artists everywhere, I thank you for your support!